The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to launch raids in October targeting undocumented immigrants in an effort to amplify the president's racist and xenophobic campaign message, a move critics denounced as an inhumane "publicity stunt" funded by U.S. taxpayers.
Three U.S. officials spoke to Washington Post reporters on the condition of anonymity to describe the federal government's plans to crack down on immigrants in "sanctuary jurisdictions" in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation referred to as the "sanctuary op."
According to two of the unidentified officials, ICE raids could begin in California as early as this week, after which the targeted arrests would expand to cities including Denver and Philadelphia.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is expected to "travel to at least one of the jurisdictions where the operation will take place to boost President Donald Trump's claims that leaders in those cities have failed to protect residents from dangerous criminals," two anonymous officials told the Post.
Sanctuary jurisdictions, as the Post explained, are those that have adopted policies that disavow cooperation with ICE, usually by refusing to check the legal status of suspects detained for minor offenses and by refusing to hold immigrants in jail longer than required—disrupting well-coordinated transfers of potential deportees to ICE custody, which the agency depends on for 70% of its arrests.
"Officials in sanctuary jurisdictions say their policies preserve community trust in immigrant neighborhoods, where officers need residents to report crimes and cooperate with local authorities without fear of being deported," the Post explained, but Trump has disparaged sanctuary cities and counties throughout his time in office, even threatening to cut off federal funding to local governments that spurn ICE.
The "sanctuary op" reflects "two themes of Trump's reelection campaign: his crackdown on immigration and his push to vilify cities led by Democrats, whom he blames for crime and violence," the Post said.
The immigration legal services non-profit RAICES tweeted: "Using a major ICE operation a month before an election as a political ploy in the name of 'law and order' is nothing less than an attack on our communities."
#DontLookAway this Admin continues to make scapegoats out of immigrants.
Using a major @ICEgov operation a month before an election as a political ploy in the name of "Law & Order" is nothing less than an attack on our communities.
Lives are on the line.https://t.co/PO2sbtiCxe
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) September 30, 2020
In Slate, Elliot Hannon wrote that Trump, "in need of another dose of fear to keep his sputtering reelection bid afloat, is now, officially, throwing the kitchen sink of chauvinism at American voters: casually rehashing racist tropes directed at suburban women, a nod to white supremacists, tough guy law and order calls from the cheap seats for whoever that works for, and… what else? … ICE raids!"
"We're talking too much about the deadly pandemic that flourished under Trump's leadership," Hannon noted sardonically. "Let's get the wall back in play."
The Post reported that the idea of increasing pressure on Democratic-run cities in 2020 by "publicizing criminal arrests in sanctuary jurisdictions" was a proposal that the Trump administration had been considering before the coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold.
Following the disease outbreak, ICE scaled back some of its enforcement practices due to health risks, and the agency's arrests are down by about one-third since spring, according to statistics from DHS.
"The decision by then-acting director Matt Albence was popular with ICE personnel who worried about exposing their families to the novel coronavirus," the Post noted, "but Trump administration officials were irritated and wanted the president to be able to run on a campaign of tough enforcement."
Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San José, California, suggested on social media that "our nation would fare far better with an IRS raid of Trump tower than another divisive, disruptive ICE raid in our local communities."
Our nation would fare far better with an IRS raid of Trump Tower than another divisive, disruptive ICE raid in our local communities. https://t.co/z3CiNvYZQO
— Sam Liccardo (@sliccardo) September 30, 2020
Philip Wolgin, managing director of immigration at the Center for American Progress, interpreted ICE threats of "immigration raids in blue cities... just before an election" as yet another example of a "blatantly political DHS action" under the Trump administration.
Even Trump insiders recognize the raid preparations as a pre-election ploy by an ostensible "law-and-order" president.
Two officials with knowledge of the "sanctuary op" told the Post that the plan is "more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation, noting that the agency already concentrates on immigration violators with criminal records and routinely arrests them without much fanfare."
"Expect a sudden surge of fanfare," Hannon predicted.